On Wednesday, January 4th, 2017, the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, Most Rev. Luigi Bonazzi, announced that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Most Reverend Frederick B. Henry as Bishop of the Diocese of Calgary due to health concerns. The Holy Father has named Bishop William Terrence McGrattan, currently Bishop of the Diocese of Peterborough, as his successor. The installation of our new Bishop will take place at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Calgary, Alberta on Monday, February 27, 2017 at 7:30 p.m. It is unheard of for a Bishop to make his resignation letter public, but Bishop Henry has never been just any ordinary Bishop. I have attached a copy of his letter below.
The news of his resignation caught us all by surprise. We knew, of course, that he was nearing the age of 75 – the age when Bishops formally retire. But knowing that something is going to happen soon never quite prepares you for the reality. Bishop Henry has been the spiritual father of this diocese for the past 19 years, and we are sad to see him go.
I’ve always been so proud of how Bishop Henry has been prepared to speak out fearlessly in defence of the faith, upholding Church teaching on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and Alberta’s controversial Bill 10. He has been outspoken in his opposition to gay-straight Alliances in schools, even when his opponents threatened him with law suits. Bishop Henry spoke out against climate change and in favour of demonstrators who targeted the G-8 summit in Kananaskis in 2002. He was a passionate advocate of education and a true father to his flock, championing the poor and homeless and welcoming refugees from the Middle East to our diocese. He was never afraid to speak the truth.
I had the privilege to meet Bishop Henry on several occasions, and I confess that at first I was a bit intimidated. After all, he was the Bishop, and we all knew that he could be very controversial! But in all my encounters with him, I found that he was a man who was unwaveringly perceptive, fair, just, considerate, and kind. If you sent him an email, you could always count on a prompt response. He was a great help to me – offering me the full support of his office – after giving me permission to introduce the ENDOW Catholic Women’s Study program to the diocese. I was so grateful when he agreed to take time from his busy schedule to preside over the opening Mass at our ENDOW Women’s Conference; what a blessing! On that occasion, I asked him to explain an article of faith to me, and I was amazed by his intellect. It took me some time to fully appreciate his words of explanation!
But the Bishop does not just possess a brilliant mind; he also has a heart of gold. He never took anyone for granted, and when our family contributed to the construction of the Priests’ wing at the Fr. Lacombe Centre, he regularly sent us thoughtful updates on its progress and warm letters of thanks.
So today, I confess that I am feeling a little sentimental – as well as a little sad – that the time has come for our beloved Bishop to step down. He will be missed, and we will always be grateful for his many years of faithful and dedicated service. Well done, good and faithful servant! You will remain in our prayers.
- Sharon van der Sloot
RESIGNATION LETTER TO POPE FRANCIS
February 6, 2016
His Holiness Pope Francis
Greetings and prayerful best wishes! I started writing this letter on August 21, 2013. The time has now come to update it and send it to you.
I will celebrate my 73rd birthday on April 11, 2016. I was ordained to the priesthood in 1968 and to the episcopacy in 1986, and have been the Bishop of Calgary since 1998.
After considerable prayer and reflection, I have come to the conclusion that I should step down as Bishop of Calgary and retire in accordance with Canon 401.2.
The principal reason is my medical condition. I suffer from a type of arthritis known ankylosing spondylitis for which there is no cure. AS is also an autoimmune disease meaning that the body’s immune system becomes confused and begins to “attack” the body. In AS, the joints in the spine are the target of the immune attack resulting in pain and stiffness (inflammation) in the neck and back.
The first symptoms of AS typically start in late adolescence or early adulthood. Although I have suffered from a sore back from my early 20s, it wasn’t until about 35 that I was diagnosed as having this disease. The inflammation of AS usually starts at the base of the spine, where the spine attaches to the pelvis. This inflammation can spread upwards to involve other parts of the spine. As the inflammation continues, new bones form as the body tries to repair itself. As a result, the bones of the spine begin to “grow together” or fuse causing the spine to become very stiff and inflexible. The discs in my lower back (lumbar region) and my neck have fused limiting my basic mobility. I can no longer turn my head sideways but must turn the whole upper body to look left or right. In addition, I can’t really look up but have a permanent stoop and my feet are much more familiar to me than the sky.
When the immune system is confused, it can attack other parts of the body than the joints and tendons. Over the years, I have had several bouts of inflammation in my eyes, a condition called uveitis or iritis. These attacks – requiring the taking of two different types of eye drops (atropine and pred forte and sometimes an eye injection) to deal with the iritis, with good management this is usually short term. I have not had an attack for the last six months – thanks be to God.
It also affects the lungs and the heart. My lung capacity is severely diminished and walking any distance, I am breathing hard after walking only one or two blocks, or climbing stairs is difficult, as is sitting in one position for any length of time.
Although my doctor was concerned about my heart, all the tests turned out negative and my heart condition is comparable to other persons my age. My hearing is also greatly diminished and getting worse.
I have been on the anti–inflammatory drug Naproxen for 37 years and Humera, a new biologic self–injected drug for about 5 and 1/2 years which has brought some pain relief. However, I live with severe chronic pain and stiffness of the spine affecting both posture and daily activity. My condition cannot be reversed. I have jokingly said that “pain is my best friend, we are always together” but it is wearing me out and limiting my ministry.
I believe that someone younger with more energy, stamina and pastoral vision should take over the role of Ordinary for the Diocese of Calgary. The needs of this ever-expanding diocese are enormous. I have given it my best and I am past my “best due date” – it is time to retire. I would like to propose that my retirement take place effective December 31, 2016.
Wishing you all the best, I remain,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
✠ F. B. Henry
Bishop of Calgary